Archive for the ‘Wellington on a Plate’ Category

It seems disloyal to rave about Aussie craft beers from my home in the beer capital of New Zealand but full credit to the brewers from across the ditch who swept in to Wellington last week with a swag of top brews from the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA).

They were here to take part in the Brewers Guild of New Zealand International Beer Awards and the Beervana festival, and they matched Logan Brown restaurant course-for-course at a wonderful lunch and tasting session co-hosted by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and Cryer Malt. I’m not sure how I slipped into this event since I’ve only ever made two batches of beer in my life (and these were hop-doctored IPA’s based on off-the-shelf brew kits). I put it down to my enthusiasm for craft beer and the people who make it.  I really like spending time with brewers – they’re smart, good fun and they don’t take themselves too seriously.

A Generous Tasting of Aussie Craft Beers

A Generous Tasting of Aussie Craft Beers

Brewers are also very collegial. It was a lively event with lots of mutual admiration and none of the tiresome trans-Tasman rivalry that accompanies so many other Aus/NZ events. Still, I was interested to know how the two countries compared. The objective view, from NZ malt king David Cryer, is that while craft brewing took off much earlier in New Zealand, Australia has more than caught up.

My own experience last year in Melbourne was that whenever I asked for a craft beer in a café or bar I was presented with a standard brew from Little Creatures, which was rather like finding nothing more interesting than Monteiths. The  Australian brewers I met at the Logan Brown lunch told me that situation, which was largely due to trade arrangements with the big breweries, is changing rapidly. They say boutique brewers are now well represented in bars and on ‘wine lists’, particularly in cities like Melbourne. And so they should be. Like wine, a well considered beer match adds an extra dimension to a dining experience.

And that brings me to lunch. Shaun Clouston and Steve Logan have been matching beer with their menus for some time now, and it shows. I won’t taunt you with a blow by blow description of the Logan Brown lunch  – just two of my favourite courses:

entreephotoFirst up, Logan Brown’s buttery paua ravioli (left of photo) was matched with this year’s Champion Australian Beer, Alpha Pale Ale from the Matilda Bay Brewing Company. Its full malt flavour was perfect with the rich beurre blanc sauce and the citrusy hops perfectly aligned with the lime and coriander flavourings. The paua got a little lost but the rest was so good that I can’t say I missed it.

The  tuatua fritter (right of photo) was partnered with  Bridge Road Brewers  India Saison  (a collaboration with Norway’s Nøngne Ø brewery and an AIBA gold award winner) Shellfish loves hops and this is a bright hoppy beer, with the same hint of citrus that sits so well with orange and fennel. pie photo

Mid-menu, I fell upon Shaun’s wild boar and muttonbird pie. It was the best thing I’ve eaten in ages and was made even better with a double match – a dark barley wine from Bootleg Brewery and a malty red ale from Holgate Brewhouse. Interestingly, the latter was one of three beers on this menu brewed in collaboration with the previously mentioned brewery in Norway. Australia and Norway? Intriguing. I should have asked.

RISphotoSome of these beers were available for tasting at Beervana, one that wasn’t was an off-menu bottle I was lucky to try at the end of the Logan Brown lunch. It was one of only 250 bottles produced and it was brought to our table by the man who brewed it: Simon Walkenhorst of Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company, in the Yarra Valley. The original brewery was burnt to the ground in Victoria’s 2009 bush fires; a new, better brewery was built six months later and it has continued to produce some of Australia’s best handcrafted beers.  The big black bottle we opened was the Russian Imperial Stout, 2012. It won a gold at the AIBA that year and my lunch notes describe it as deeply delicious. It was all chocolate and coffee, roasted malt, smooth as velvet and made to be aged, just like a wine from the Yarra.

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Last week I ate at the White House restaurant in Wellington. It was a family birthday and we ordered the winning Visa Wellington on a Plate menu. It was the second time in one week that I’d eaten the chef’s rabbit pie with Otaki carrots. The grower would have cried tears of joy to see how brilliantly his humble root vegetable was prepared – not just boiled but also dried, powdered and sous vide – it was a mini degustation of carrot. It goes without saying that the rabbit was excellent too; Chef Paul Hoather is into the detail. He even makes his own butter from cream he’s cultured himself. And that brings me to the funky dessert which was not on the Wellington on a Plate menu but it did contain cultured cream. He thought I should try it because he’d read my blog post on the edible condom I ate in Hong Kong (scroll down to Sex on the Beach). I think he was suggesting I wash my mouth out with soap.

Milk Curd, Pistachio Sponge Cake and Honey at the White House

Paul’s soap was a gloriously rich chilled down, dense version of crème anglaise, tasty because it was made with his own cultured crème fraiche. The bubble foam was somehow infused with honey and the loofah was pistachio. It was the most difficult part to create but it made the dish with its contrasting texture and undeniable wit. It’s on the degustation menu.

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It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words but when it comes to food I’d much rather describe the experience in words. Food photography is an incredibly difficult field. I’ve tried and I’ve always failed to convey the flavour and appetite I’ve felt when presented with a plate of something delicious. I mean, how do you photograph taste?

I’ve worked with some professionals who manage to do just that: photographers who make me want to eat the images they create. I’ve always wondered how they do it, so when food photographer Murray Lloyd and food writer Ruth Pretty offered a food photography workshop as part of Wellington on a Plate, I was one of the first to sign up.

Food photography workshop with Murray Lloyd (right).

Ruth and Murray have collaborated on five cookbooks over the past few years and created hundreds of photographs. Each one takes several hours to produce, beginning with a brainstorming session to define the sort of look they want to achieve. The workshop took us through the process from concept to shoot. We learnt how each dish is styled, what props are used, how it’s lit and how it’s composed in the frame. Murray prefers to work with natural light and the only trickery Ruth uses is a paintbrush and a little oil to make the food glow.

Chicken and Cranberry Pies

Our first assignment was pastry. We had half an hour to style and photograph a group of small pies using a choice of plates, fabrics, cutlery and coloured card backdrops. We had to consider light, composition, texture, colour etc. It was quite a lot to think about. We were also advised that an uneven number of pies would look best on the plate, which meant I had to eat one of mine. It was really nice: chicken and cranberry. Anyway, after much rearranging of props I managed to get everything in frame. This is my picture of Ruth’s chicken pies.

Notice how I have used an S shaped composition and also repeated the circular forms of the pies in my choice of material. I was rather pleased with my effort but the pies still look flat  and lifeless – I blame the natural light, which naturally hid behind a cloud just as I was ready to shoot.

Next up was poached salmon with pesto and micro greens. The dishes were plated by Ruth’s sous chef Kirk and they were supposed to be photographed as if in a restaurant, which was good practice for me because this is the sort of situation where I do sometimes have to get a shot that’s fit for publication.


I’m not sure that my salmon photo cuts it but I did like the artful positioning of the fork in my salad closeup (below).

The main course was slow braised pork shoulder with apricots, prunes, lima beans and cavalo nero. It tasted fabulous but it was really tricky to photograph on account of the cavalo nero which looked limp, wet and much too black.

Braised Pork Shoulder

Interestingly, Murray picked this shot out, kindly illustrating the clever way in which I had positioned the orange chair in the background to echo the orange of the carrot on the plate. I could see how this did make the colours “sing” but I hadn’t planned it that way. And therein lies the difference: a real food photographer would have left nothing to chance; my success was entirely accidental.

And unlike a professional shoot, where you really don’t want to eat the food that’s been fiddled with for hours, we polished off the lot. In fact, it all looked so good that by lunchtime my creativity lost the battle with my appetite; after a cursory effort I swapped my camera for knife, fork and napkin.

So what did I learn? If in doubt, zoom in close; and if the food looks lifeless, toss in a few flowers. But seriously, I have a new appreciation of  just how much work goes into making food look so good on the page. A slide show of some of the photographs from Ruth’s new book – one or two of which were the same dishes we’d struggled to compose earlier in the day – served to illustrate the point: we really do eat with our eyes. Here’s a sneak preview of the front cover. Ruth Pretty Cooks at Home is due out in October, RRP $65, published by Penguin. Photos by Murray Lloyd.




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I’m a sucker for lemons. Lemon sorbet, lemons with gin, lemon juice on fresh snapper, lemon roasted chicken, lemon mayonnaise, lemon syrup cake. You get my drift. Lemons go with just about everything; they are an essentlal ingredient. I once got stranded on a North Island beach with no money and no transport. My friend and I had a tent and a bag of lemons. For two days we ate tuatuas: mostly raw. The lemons made all the difference.

My friend Mary Biggs is of the same mind. She’s a great cook (Cordon Bleu trained) and she loves lemons so much she’s created an entire range of products around that one essential ingredient. Her brand Lavender’s Green includes lemon cordials, lemon jelly, preserves pickles, mustard, chutneys and curds. My favourite is the roasted lemon chutney. I’ve recently written it into a recipe for Moroccan lamb sliders – my little burgers would be nothing without it.

I’ve just eaten that same chutney with Mark Limacher’s potted rabbit. It was part of a five-course Wellington on a Plate lunch in which Mary’s products added depth or zing to every dish on the menu at the Ortega Fish Shack.

Roast Duck and Smoked Warehou Salad

A beetroot and feta combination was spiked with a lively lemon pickle and the lemon mustard was a great addition to the salsa that accompanied the beef. My favourite course combined duck and softly smoked warehou on a crunchy juliened salad with tamarind and preserved lemon dressing.

We finished with lemon tarts that were good because they were simple – just fresh lemon curd spooned into individual pastry cases. Unfortunately they were accompanied by the only thing I really don’t like – liquorice. It looked great – whipped into ice cream and served with mini allsorts – but taste is such a personal thing. I’ve tried but I can’t do it. I know I’ll never learn to like liquorice, not even when it’s partnered with lemons.


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Wellington sure can throw a good party. Last night’s launch of Wellington on a Plate was a cracker – and judging by the programme of events for this year’s food festival, the party has only just started. I went home clutching my WOP booklet and was up all night drawing up a list of must-dos that will keep me going through August.

(Check dates and details on programme)

Blind Dining at Capitol. I’ve been to a previous blind dining event at Capitol and it was brilliant. Like jumping off a cliff – a shock to the senses in the best possible way.

Capitol’s Wood-fired Feast  A roadside cookup on Kent Terrace that could start an interesting new trend in Courtenay Place.

Ferry the Oysters to the Bay. I would do this for the oysters alone – Tio Point ones (same species as Bluff) raised in the Marlborough Sounds by pioneering oyster farmer Bruce Hearn. Also includes an evening ferry trip across the harbour for dinner at Cobar, which I hear is fabulous.

Tongue-in-Cheek. Jacob Brown is one of Wellington’s best chefs. Last year his nose-to-tail pork dinner at the Larder was my favourite event; this year I’ll be in for the cranial feast – brains, ears, cheeks, tongue, but please not the eyes.

Tongue-to-Tail Duck. Duck specialist Pascal Bedel ruffles the feathers of his favourite bird. Duck, duck and more ducking duck at Le Canard.

Wellington Young Chef’s Dinner. How generous of Jacob to forego the limelight and hand his Larder over to a group of young chefs. He’ll be keeping an eye on things but this is a great chance to see what the next generation can do.

A Plate of Molecules: Chemical Gastronomy. Science in the kitchen. An American Professor and co-founder of the Experimental Cuisine Collective makes food do some weird things. Could be the quirkiest event of the festival. And it’s free!

Welllington Fisher & Paykel MasterClass. Wish I could afford this one. An entire day spent learning from some truly great chefs. Did I hear Justin North?

Foodie Zoo Safari. Ruth Pretty at the zoo? News that Wellington’s primo caterer is taking over the zoo kitchen has Wellington a twitter with what this could mean: lunching with lions? treats for the tigers? lamingtons with lamas or pavlova for the pandas? Expect to be fed at least as well as the animals.

The Dark Side of Coffee and Chocolate.  This will be a serious cross-sampling of regional chocolate and coffees run by people who really know their beans. I’m in.

Malaysia Kitchen Night Market. A culinary trip round Malaysia in a market setting. Imagine chowing down on nasi lemak and mee goreng at a roadside stall down Opera House Lane. Brilliant idea.

Pecha Kucha City Market: Imbibe.  Al Brown, Jonny Schwass and others promise to keep it snappy with something akin to a power-point presentation on speed.

Martini, Martini, Martini. Why stop at three? This is billed as a sort of interactive history lesson at the Hawthorne Lounge. The Martini through time.

Kiwi Bush Tucker for Kids. Bush tucker, sausages and bonfires at Staglands. You’ll need to take a child and your best marshmallow stick.

Vegetarian, Organic and Biodynamic Degustation. Travis Clive-Griffin is a fantastic chef and his omniverous feast was a highlight of last years’ festival. Well worth a trip over the hill to Saluté in Greytown

My list is a tiny snapshot of what’s on offer at Wellington on a Plate this year. More than 100 restaurants are participating in Dine Wellington. Each has a special cut-price festival menu and many are competing to win your vote for the best regionally-inspired burger.

It’s worth noting that no one makes much money out of this event and yet it’s incredibly well supported by the region’s restaurants, wineries and providores. Together they’ve created an annual event that puts Wellington at the forefront of the country’s food scene. Cheers to them all!

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